NARRATOR: "It's a nostalgic sight. Just as when Lilly first led me to the library, the orange tint of sunset bathes the room in its light while Hanako sits on a beanbag silently reading and Yuuko fusses, just barely visible behind the counter. Hanako especially has been noticeably more quiet than usual since yesterday's happenings, but I can't really blame her. It wasn't just me that depended on that person, after all. I quietly walk back to the beanbag near her where I'd sat before, being doubly careful not to make any unnecessary noise."
NARRATOR: "The soft puff it gives as the bag takes my weight makes Hanako's eyes flick towards me, but only for a second. I get the feeling that Hanako's been quiet only partly out of sadness following Lilly's departure. "Rather, she seems more thoughtful and measured than I'd expected; perhaps due to her desire of working out how to deal with Lilly's leaving rather than just being depressed over it. It makes me a little proud of her."
HISAO: "Hey, Hanako?"
HISAO: "Still going ahead with your idea of traveling?"
NARRATOR: "She gives a determined nod."
HANAKO: "I'll be starting in a day or two. Naomi's decided to come with me, too."
HISAO: "Wow, quick start. Where're you two headed to first?"
HANAKO: "I think we're going to start by going north... then loop down and go southward."
HISAO: "So... Hokkaido's going to be first?"
NARRATOR: "She gives another nod, more tentative than the last. The significance of that place is not lost on either of us."
HISAO: "Do you know how you're going to handle the traveling expenses and accommodations?"
HANAKO: "Yeah, I've worked everything out. I think it should be okay. Naomi says she has her side worked out, too."
HISAO: "You know that if you need anything you can just call, right? I gave you my number before. Any time of the day is fine."
NARRATOR: "She gives a smile, which in itself feels like a small personal victory."
HANAKO: "I know. Th-thanks... Hisao."
NARRATOR: "Maybe Lilly was right. Although I may offer Hanako any help I can possibly give, I feel as if I know she doesn't need it. She really has grown. Hanako's plans for her holidays are in sharp contrast to my simple following of my parents' suggestion to stay with them. Holidays had always made me feel less excited than most, though, so maybe this is just a return to the status quo. Before my heart attack, I'd always lived so aimlessly that holidays weren't all that much different from my everyday life anyway. After school I'd wander around a bit in the city, often hanging out with some friends, before making my way home to eat dinner with usually one of my parents, but rarely both. Their work schedules didn't leave much time for them to be home, and going there straight from school would just have meant I'd end up feeling bored. I was an urbanite through and through."
NARRATOR: "Since coming to Yamaku though, it feels like I've fundamentally changed as a person. The phone call with my parents erased any traces of doubt I might have held on that, in any case. While before I had exercised a fairly normal level of independence for a teenager, that being not a whole lot, my parents were more than pleased to hear of my newfound ability in taking care of myself. Laundry, cooking for myself, cleaning, all in addition to other general chores that come from living without parents around... just little menial things I've had to pick up, but with relative ease. When I think about it, I'd always depended on them, even if they hadn't been at home all the time. To say I never depended on anyone after moving to the Yamaku dormitories would be far from the truth, though."
YUUKO: "Um... excuse me..."
NARRATOR: "The two of us look up at the awkwardly fidgeting figure in front of us. Some things never change."
YUUKO: "It's getting close to closing time, so um..."
NARRATOR: "Oh, right. I'd forgotten that the library closes earlier during the holidays. Hanako and I both get up and dust ourselves off, placing our books back on the shelf behind us. The fact that our tastes in reading material have a fair amount of overlap is useful at times. With a bow to Yuuko to apologize for taking so much time, Hanako takes her leave of us."
HANAKO: "See you tomorrow, Hisao."
NARRATOR: "And with that, she walks out of the large, wooden, aging doors that herald the entrance to the library."
YUUKO: "She's a quiet person, isn't she?"
NARRATOR: "I suppose I should be surprised at a staff member sharing personal opinions like this, but after knowing Yuuko for a while it's largely expected. Our relationship is more personal, rather than one with her acting as an authority figure."
HISAO: "Yeah, I think that's just how she is. She's got a lot more confidence in herself these days, though."
YUUKO: "I don't know her as well as you do, but I think I agree. It's nice to see her talking to people here; she never used to do that before."
HISAO: "Hey, Yuuko... you know about Lilly's leaving, right?"
YUUKO: "She told me herself a few days ago. It must be hard, leaving everyone behind like she is."
NARRATOR: "She quickly looks back to me after she says this, probably remembering that I went to her for advice on the relationship between Lilly and I before."
YUUKO: "Are you going to be okay?"
NARRATOR: "That's... a difficult question. It's something I'd rather not think about for now, though, given more pressing issues."
HISAO: "Something seems kind of off about this whole deal, don't you think?"
NARRATOR: "Yuuko appears to think for a while, absentmindedly scrunching her face up in a variety of creative ways as she does so."
YUUKO: "I don't think I really know her well enough to make that kind of judgment. I'm sorry I can't be more help."
HISAO: "Nah, that's fine. I'm just sort of thinking aloud."
NARRATOR: "I give a deep sigh and scratch my head in frustration."
HISAO: "There's just so much stuff happening at once that I have no control over... it feels like I'm being swamped."
YUUKO: "I think everyone goes through times like that. What's important is to concentrate on what you can do, rather than what you can't do. At least, that's how I see it. If I didn't think like that, I don't think I'd be able to manage my life as it is."
NARRATOR: "She says it with a smile and a light tone, but her words are far from any kind of joke. Being pulled between two jobs as she is, just to hopefully make enough money not only to live, but also for university, must be exhausting. Perhaps that's why, coming from her, this feels like it has more meaning than if it had come from most others."
HISAO: "I guess you've got a point there. Thank you for your advice once again, Yuuko."
NARRATOR: "She bows deeply and smiles again, before making her way back to the counter where she spends so much of her time."
NARRATOR: "The tiny wings of the cardboard crane in my fingers are only just visible in the dim light of my room, just a little of the moonlight being able to peek through the curtains and around their edges. I lie still in my dark bed for a long time, idly looking up at the little origami bird. It feels like a lot's happened since Lilly folded this, but at the same time it feels like very little has changed. Compared to everyone else, I'm back to square one. I might have a newfound idea of where I want to go in life, but that's hardly something that affects me now. Hanako changed, I know that much. If anything, she just makes me feel like I've got no excuse to be like this, considering her previous situation. Lilly, though... I turn the bird in my fingers another way, looking at it from yet another angle."
NARRATOR: "When I first met her, she seemed aloof and perhaps somewhat distant. Her actions were always careful, measured and precise, and her carefully maintained composure always gave the appearance of unerring confidence and serenity. In time, she became less formal. Just a bit, but enough. It felt good to see her lowering her inhibitions around me, and opening up, even just a little, of her own accord; it felt as if I was seeing her real self slowly become more vibrant and visible. Now, though, I'm beginning to have doubts. Perhaps they're to be expected after what is, effectively, the two of us breaking up. They don't feel new or strange though, but rather like an old book being found and dusted off. I soon realized after meeting Lilly that she saw me as she did Hanako; as someone who needed help and care. At first, I simply thought that we'd be fine as friends, helping each other through our limited time together in school."
NARRATOR: "But then I began to treasure our moments together more and more, from our quiet walks to our talking over lunch. The good sides of her personality became ever more obvious, and ever more likable. The absence caused by Lilly's trip to Scotland to visit her long-distant family and sick aunt only made me realize how much I liked just being around her, and I had thought that she felt a similar way. For her, though, maybe that wasn't everything to our relationship. Even after she returned to Japan, that just meant she lost her family once again after meeting them for such a brief time. She lived so much of her life without her family around, not to mention with Akira working long hours, that she had little choice but to be like that."
NARRATOR: "I had thought her sense of independence to be a good and admirable trait. It was in stark difference to my reliance on my parents before my heart attack, as reluctant as I may have been to admit it. However, it also meant that she never let people get too close to her. She lost her family likely due to her blindness, went to a different school from anybody she knew because of it, and worked all the harder to make sure she didn't end up a burden on her sister and those around her. And now, Akira's going to Inverness, just like the family she thought she'd lost. She never told me of her plans, as conflicted as she was about them. Lilly didn't want to be a burden on anyone, including me. ...I'm an idiot."
NARRATOR: "I never questioned it. I never tried to be there or asked when she needed me to. I just set my life up and expected it to stay that way forever, with the two of us having a nice long relationship where we pushed forwards towards our future together. A small pit of frustration and anger at myself wells up in my chest. I just let everything happen, never even trying to help Lilly. Just her being there was enough. I thought I could keep going on if that were true. But that could never have been enough. It was a childlike dependence on somebody, without any attempt to understand or help their situation. Thanks to that, I lost Lilly. I lost the one person I loved most because I wasn't there for her when she needed me."
NARRATOR: "With an increasingly angry feeling washing over me, I turn over and set the crane back on the desk next to my clock, the place where it has lived since that day when she folded it for me. Since that day when she herself said that my burdens needn't be my own. The obnoxious bright red numerals of my alarm clock shine through the darkness of the room onto my tired eyes. Ten o'clock. Evening. Curfew will be soon. I wonder... Akira mentioned they'd be leaving this evening. I've no idea exactly when their flight is... but that means there's a chance, however small, that they might not have already left. Adrenaline starts to move through my body as I sit up on my bed, my eyes suddenly wide with possibility. There's no guarantee they haven't left, indeed it's likely that they already have, but there's also a chance they haven't, however small it may be. Just this once, just as I should have before..."
NARRATOR: "I stand up and rush over to my cabinet, throwing out some clothes as fast as I can and sliding them on in quick succession. Each second that goes by is a second that I can't regain, a second that may mean the difference between catching them and losing them forever. Even if I fail, I have to try. I can't let her leave everything behind without even trying to stop her. Without, just this once, being there for her. With the last of my clothes slipped on, I hastily grab the phone off the desk. Luckily, the number for a local taxi company is still in my call history. A gruff, unenthusiastic voice announces the name of the company while I pace around the room. It takes some effort to slow down my voice and keep it clear over the phone."
NARRATOR: "The chilly night air sweeps against me as I open the dormitory door, but nevertheless I keep up my brisk speed as I half-jog, half-run out to the school gates. It may not be curfew just yet, but it's precariously close. If there were a guard around they'd no doubt have some questions for me, but it looks like I've managed to come out just before they arrive, or they're around a corner. My pace picks up as I make my way through the school gardens, their night-time allure all but lost when I begin to run to the school gate. The lamps of the courtyard, dim as they are, provide just enough illumination to light the way and prevent me from tripping over. The buildings themselves take on a rustic, almost antique-looking edge when I glance at them. Looking back, it seems strange that they once appeared so dark and looming to me. Now they just look to be somewhat anachronistic school buildings, the same as any others bar their age."
NARRATOR: "Leaving the gates behind me, I pull up to a stop just before the taxi. Parked just as Akira's car had been, its gaudy and brightly lit sign looks out of place in the quiet country backdrop. I impatiently squeeze myself through the door, giving the driver the address for where the two should hopefully be staying. By the time the taxi pulls up after its trip at maddeningly casual speed, it's well and truly deep into the night. The house is truly enormous, its sheer size much larger than I'd expected, and ominously still. Fearing the worst, I ask the driver to stay just in case my efforts are for naught. A single press on the fancy intercom system outside the gate produces a short electronic melody in the otherwise silent road. It's not long before a somewhat deep, gruff voice can be heard from it."
???: "This is the Hakamichi residence. Please state your name and why you're bothering us this late."
NARRATOR: "I press on despite inwardly wincing at the reasonable annoyance audible in his voice."
HISAO: "It's Hisao Nakai. I was hoping to meet Lilly or Akira, if they're still here."
NARRATOR: "Surprisingly, I manage to summon quite some energy to my voice, enough to make the other side of the intercom silent. A few seconds pass, but just before I press the button again and ask what's going on, a light turns on outside the front door. I strain my eyes to try and make out who is coming through, but as he comes past a large parked car with fishing rods sticking out the back, his identity becomes clear. His face is typically placid and emotionless as he saunters up to the gate. He's still childlike in his mannerisms, despite his demeanor. With the press of a few buttons from behind the fence, the gate slowly opens."
HIDEAKI: "Hisao? What are you doing here?"
NARRATOR: "I think this is the most emotion I've ever heard from his voice, not that it would be hard to reach that mark."
HISAO: "Akira told me that she and Lilly would be staying here before they left for their flight. I need to talk to Lilly, just one last time. Are they still here?"
NARRATOR: "The look on his face says everything. I failed. I was too late. The one time when I actually needed to act quickly, and..."
HIDEAKI: "Actually... it's possible..."
HISAO: "What? What is it?"
NARRATOR: "He's a bit taken aback by my fervor, but I can't help it at this point."
HIDEAKI: "They left not long ago; only a few minutes before you arrived, in fact. If you go straight to the airport, you might be able to... Hisao!?"
NARRATOR: "I dart back towards the waiting taxi, grabbing what little money is left in my pocket as I go."
HISAO: "Thanks, Hideaki!"
NARRATOR: "With that I take a seat, and in short order bark out my destination. My chest beats wildly as I tear down the street, my body twisting this way and that to slip between the pedestrians walking back and forth beside me. With the road solidly blocked by taxis and other cars, dropping off passengers and picking up others in the time they have to wait, we ended up having to stop almost a block away. But that's in the past now. What matters is reaching Lilly. One foot hits the ground, the other quickly following without the slightest thought, as if my legs have taken on a life of their own and all my mind can do is concentrate on the view ahead of me. Just one glimpse of that long hair of hers. That long, yellow hair that was the same color as the wheat that stretched as far as the eye could see."
NARRATOR: "In the end, I depended on Lilly, just like Hanako did. Even after we started going out, it still doesn't feel like she really ever let herself depend on me. Except for one moment. That one moment where we held each other tightly on that bright yellow field. At that time she must have feared losing me just as she did everyone else. That's why, just this once... The night air wraps around me, draining every last remnant of warmth out of my body, to the extent that it feels more like midwinter than a summer night. My fingers, my hands, my feet... they all feel increasingly cold. The sound of the passing crowds is reduced to no more than a background hum while the sound of my shoes hitting the pavement echoes loudly, every step surging towards the person I have to catch. Forced by my chest tightening in response to the cold of the night, I rest an arm over it to try and settle it down."
NARRATOR: "When the airport comes into view, though, I realize this feeling as one I've felt before. Not now... of all the times for this, please not now. I take a gulp and soldier on regardless, pushing my body as far as it will go. Sweat pours off me as I hurtle forward, my shoulder hitting someone's side and my mind suddenly flooding with emotions and memories. I continue on without an apology. I have to keep moving now. If I stop, I'm not sure I could begin again, and even if I could it would all be for naught if I'm not in time. I hit another person, then another, offering little resistance to getting bounced about. My feet feel numb. My arms are losing all feeling. My chest forces me to hunch over awkwardly, tightening ever more. That afternoon in the snow... that time when my life irreversibly changed... images of Iwanako and that damned letter flash over and over in my mind, the first love I'd lost thanks to my condition. I can't let that happen again. I don't care what happens to me any more, I just need to see her one last time. ...There!"
NARRATOR: "A sliver of yellow and white comes into view some distance down the road, her figure silhouetted by the lights emanating from the airport entrance."
HISAO: "Lilly! Lilly! Lilly! Stop, please! Lilly!"
NARRATOR: "Come on Lilly, I know your hearing's far beyond nor—"
NARRATOR: "My view suddenly spins out of control and ends up on the ground, my body haphazardly sprawled after hitting someone and stumbling over. Before I can assess the damage, an unbelievable pain ignites in my body. All my thoughts are blanked as I curl up and frantically clutch at my chest."
???: "Hey, are you okay? That was a really bad fall."
NARRATOR: "This pain... I can't..."
HISAO: "Argh... aaaaaargh!"
NARRATOR: "Any sharp knock could do me in. Any overexertion. I thought I could overcome my limits this once..."
???: "Something's wrong with him!"
???: "What's the matter, are..."
NARRATOR: "The voices of those gathering around me are gradually replaced by a loud ringing in my ears. By now I'm unable to move my head, my eyes turn upwards to see the mute moving of their lips. Even as I clutch my chest, I realize I can't feel my fingers any more, nor my feet. It feels like my entire body is shutting down, starting from my extremities."
NARRATOR: "With one last effort, I turn my head down the road towards the airport entrance that's casting its light over me. Lilly is there, behind the crowd. Her head is tilted, but only just slightly. I can feel my vision dimming as I try to yell out, but nothing emerges from my mouth despite my best efforts. Slowly but surely, my vision begins to black out the scene before me. So... this is how it ends. I failed. I was so close, so very close, but at the very last moment my condition seized my chance at a new life and dragged me back. Now I'm going to die, sprawled out just meters from an airport, with a crowd of babbling people surrounding me and with Lilly leaving for Scotland just a little distance ahead."
HISAO: "Li... lly..."
NARRATOR: "That last word extinguishes the last of my energy. The world falls into a deep, inescapable blackness as every muscle in my body shuts down. I'm sorry, Lilly. I was too late."
Next Scene: Under a Maudlin Sky